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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Days of Obligation: An Argument With My Mexican Father (audiobook) by Richard Rodriguez

Rodriguez writes a rambling, insightful and interesting work

Published by Blackstone Audio in 2008
Duration: 8 hours, 14 minutes

I first learned of Richard Rodriguez on C-Span's Booknotes program. He was an invited guest of First Lady Laura Bush to speak at an author's fair that she started hosting in Texas while she was the First Lady of Texas. Rodriguez was promoting his book Brown at the the time and I thought his observations were wonderful.

Days of Obligations is in a similar vein, but not nearly as focused. He does (primarily) focus on the differences between Mexico and the United States Two interesting observations from Mexicans about America include: 1) "America is 'Organized'. Passive voice. Rodriguez notes that there seems to be no connection that actual Americans do the organizing. Rather it's almost like it is fate that America is organized. 2) Americans have too much freedom.

Rodriguez digresses from his Mexico/America discussion for an interesting (but off topic) discussion about the gay lifestyle in San Francisco. Perhaps it was meant to be a comparison between Mexicans moving into California and San Francisco's transformation into a beacon for homosexuals. If so, it was poorly correlated, although interesting nonetheless.

Richard Rodriguez

His observations on multiculturalism are very interesting. Rodriguez is a hard man to pin down politically. He is a walking dichotomy. Gay. Devoted Catholic. Mexican, but barely speaks Spanish. American, but feels that he is different. 

He looks at school to be the ultimate "de-individualizer" in American society, and that is not entirely bad. He believes that there needs to be a common understanding in society - we all have a common culture if we live in the United States, even if we prefer to ignore it. For example, he stresses the importance of the studying the Founding Fathers: "These were the men that shaped the country that shaped my life." He stresses that point off and on throughout the book - the United States shaped his life, Mexico shaped his parents' lives, and even though they brought Mexico with them in their hearts, he did not buy into it - he was shaped much more by America.

Rodriguez's observations on multiculturalism in the Catholic church and Protestant vs. Catholic (in attitude, worship style, individual vs. communal, even musical themes) take up nearly an hour of the audio edition - but it may be the most interesting hour of all.

Rodriguez is a skilled and experienced public speaker (regular duty on PBS plus book tours) so I have to wonder why he did not read his own book. The reader, Michael Anthony, did a great job with accents (primarily Irish and Mexican) and the spoken Spanish was solid so I have no complaints, but still...I enjoyed hearing Rodriguez speak for himself when I first heard of him at that book fair on C-Span that I could not help but be a bit disappointed.

I give this one 5 stars out of 5. Well worth a read, or in my case, a listen while driving to work. Lots of thoughts about immigration, Mexico, religion - and true to Rodriguez's form, no real answers. But, the discussion is worth the time and Rodriguez can turn a phrase quite nicely.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Days of Obligation.

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